San Francisco, 1977. I walked into a funky house in the Sunset to a seminar on self-publishing, hoping to fulfill a dream of self-expression. More than 30 years later, with the camaraderie of twenty other writers and a new technology called Print-On-Demand, I finally accomplished that elusive goal.
The Fallen Leaf Anthology is the tangible inspiration of authors attending the Stanford Write Retreat in the Spring of ’09. On the shores of the lake by the same name, we met three years ago to share our love of writing and learn new techniques. Initial discussions of “getting published” shifted more recently toward self-publishing. Stumbling over hurdles of editing, design, administration, and author sensitivities, we succeeded. Each of us now has a book to send to mothers, brothers and of course Aunt Martha who insisted we hold the pencil correctly and knew we would become writers one day.
I knew. Why else had my teacher dragged me across the hall to recite my essay on cranberries to the other fifth grade class? He was still laughing from my reference to 50,000 in a crate and a name change to “cram-berries.” For this, I became famous in my grandmother’s circle of friends who would greet me with the recollection, “Oh yes! You’re the young man who wrote about the strawberries!”
I’ve never stopped writing. It’s in my blood, or more accurately, in my mind, my philosophy, my perspective on life. Observing, thinking, writing it down is just a part of me. This perspective helps me address life more fully, just as a photographer sees more clearly through the frame of a lens.
After the first Write Retreat and the beginning of the Kepler’s Writers Group, I began to send out stories to new found, eclectic online journals. I was excited and sure that one of these would recognize the brilliance of my creative mind. Not!
At Kepler's last year, an editor of a mainstream publisher described the business in terms that sounded like a sinking ship, with publishers making wrong choices 90% of the time. He further noted the need for authors to develop their own “platform” online. When I asked what advantage a large publisher brought to the equation, he sidestepped unconvincingly. I began to question the worth of submitting stories to dozens of journals so that an agent might become interested in presenting me to a publisher who would ask me to do the marketing so he could keep the profit and rights to future works. Then it occurred to me: selection by an entity that was 90% wrong might not be such a kudo!
It is at this point that I dust off my old motto of “screw ‘em!” and proceed boldly forward. Admittedly, this doesn’t always work, as my wife will ardently attest. Yet given the odds, I find it far better to use available tools and the smattering of small companies willing to assist. You may not get limousine rides or be sent on a 7 day tour of 12 cities; but you will indeed end up with a book in hand, a tangible product of your own creation. Mothers, uncles, sisters and friends will turn the pages, proof that you are not only a writer but also a published author. Your daughter can take this legacy off the shelf to read to your grandson, as mine will do for Alex (in photo below). All this for only $500 and a few months of painstaking work – ironically less effort and money than sending out all those stories to endless journals fostering intense competition with a global call for reader’s fees.
There are downside risks. Self-publishing is a distraction from writing. Agents and editors do offer valuable counsel. Yet friends and writers’ groups can fill the gap, and time for writing resumes after the book is published. Grabbing the proverbial horns of the bull is daunting, fun, educational, frustrating, manageable and effective. We did it, rather in the style of co-operative efforts I recall from the Age of Aquarius. The irony is that having a book out there and creating your own “platform” could just get New York to give you a call. You might just hear yourself answer, “Thanks but no thanks. I’ll do it myself.”
Such is the empowerment of self-publishing. Write on! Write now!